Book Review: Bury Them Deep

I started reading this crime thriller on a recent stormy weekend when I wished to curl up with a book I could immerse myself in. A few hours later I commented on Twitter: “Plucked some crime fiction from my TBR pile and am reminded once again why this genre, when well written, is so popular with readers”. I was looking forward to getting back to the story the following day.

Unfortunately, by then, I was around 200 pages into what is, in proof form at least, a 450 page tome. The pace from here became glacial. Dinner parties were being detailed along with a trip to an art exhibition. Whilst I enjoyed the take-downs of pseudo-intellectuals trying too hard to impress, I was trying to work out why these scenes were needed. I feared they were there as filler. Twitter confirmed that certain genre writers are contracted by the big publishers to submit manuscripts containing a prescribed number of words.

Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy crime fiction. Sarah Hilary, for example, may structure her books using a recognisable formula but her writing and plot development contain enough depth and interest to take a reader’s mind off this. I’m certainly not going to criticise the quality of James Oswald’s writing. It is polished and, as I mentioned, contains injections of humour. My problem with Bury Them Deep was that it felt bloated. Eventually, with 50 pages to go, I just wanted it to end.

The story is set in and around Edinburgh, a place I love to visit. It opens with a local legend – the tale of Sawney Bean who, for 25 years in the 16th century, headed a clan of incestuous cannibals, before they were captured and executed without trial. Following this is a chapter introducing an unnamed woman as she heads out for a Friday night of sex with strangers. Her story is subsequently interspersed with that of the various police investigations the protagonist, Detective Chief Inspector Tony McLean, is required to lead.

This is the 10th novel featuring Inspector McLean and the first I have read. There are references throughout to what I assume are his previous cases which are intriguing. The plot of Bury Them Deep does, however, hold up when read standalone.

In this tale, DCI McLean’s team is a small part of Operation Caterwaul, a high security, global investigation into unnamed, high profile, powerful individuals. Details are shared on a strictly need to know basis. When one of Tony McLean’s team goes missing – a long serving admin assistance named Anya Renfrew – there is consternation amongst his superiors who fear they will be blamed for what could be a catastrophic security breach. Tony is more concerned about Anya’s safety.

It is agreed that locating Anya is a high priority task, even if for differing reasons. Tony allocates resources to interviewing those who knew her and working out where she could have been since last seen. He discovers that the quietly competent admin assistant had unimagined secrets. He ignores the paperwork his rank is supposed to deal with and heads out into the field.

Into the mix are added a couple of young teenagers, one of whom enjoys setting fire to things. There is also an inmate of a secure psychiatric unit with whom Tony has history. Emma, Tony’s wife, is demanding that he pay her more attention. Through Emma, Tony is reintroduced to a Forensic Anthropologist he knew as a teenager.

All of these characters play their roles. Ancient, and not so ancient, bones are uncovered. Trails that may lead to Anya are followed. A retired detective takes an active interest in the direction the investigation is taking. The unnamed woman is being put through hell.

There are more references to the relentless hot weather than I found necessary although it is significant. Perhaps my problem with plot development was that everything seemed obvious from early on so I was waiting for the story to catch up and fill in the details. This took more words than I felt were required, certainly more than held my interest.

I rather liked the ending although, as with much of the way Tony worked, it appeared highly unprofessional. There were several threads that, having finished the book, made me wonder why they were included. Perhaps I would have enjoyed the story more had I read previous installments in the series.

Other reviewers have described this as a page-turner. I would be interested to know if crime fiction fans want their books to be the length the big publishers provide. Personally I prefer my fiction to be taut and compelling, or offering prose so exquisite it is simply a joy to savour. Bury Them Deep was not a book for me.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Wildfire.